Mr Ridley said the Cabinet Office and Number 10 “were not assured of the position in care homes and the extent to which there were plans in place to minimise the risks of infection”.
Mr Ridley said there was “great concern” from the Prime Minister, colleagues in Number 10, and the Cabinet Office “about the position in care homes and what could be done to mitigate it – that wasn’t just about testing”.
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Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel for the inquiry, asked whether this included the risk of discharging untested hospital patients into care homes.
Mr Ridley said: “There was concern about the implications of that but I think everyone was agreed that we needed to discharge people from the NHS given the rise in Covid infections and hospitalisations and the need to have space and capacity for them.”
Asked by Mr Keith whether freeing up bed space in the NHS took precedence over care sector considerations, Mr Ridley said: “That is precisely what the Government was balancing.
“It was the case that it was a priority for discharge to happen, and the [ministerial implementation groups] discussions were about what the support and mitigations for care homes and the care sector were.
“There were some limitations to that in terms of testing capacity.”
Pressed on whether there was an imbalance, Mr Ridley added: “Ultimately there needs to be a decision.”
Mr Ridley also told the inquiry in London that he had been “blindsided” by the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme during the summer of 2020.
He said the taskforce had not been consulted prior to the policy’s announcement, but added that he “didn’t spend time worrying particularly about the whys and wherefores of that”.
The UK Covid inquiry was also shown a document titled ‘Hypothetical thought-experiment not Government policy’.
The document gave the prime minister a scenario several weeks in the future – October 14 2020 – where he was being advised to take “urgent action” to “bend the curve” of Covid infection levels.
Asked by Mr Keith why it was necessary to draft “future eventualities” for the Prime Minister to look at, Mr Ridley said: “We were trying to find different ways to have the debate with the prime minister and others about the uncertainties about the possible positions we could be in, in order to inform decisions about action today.
“We found at different points in July, August and September  that doing meetings in some slightly different ways, providing information in different ways helped to stimulate that debate.”
Put to him that the Covid taskforce hypothesised a “worst-case scenario” to influence the prime minister’s decision-making, Mr Ridley said: “We could see the path of the growth of the virus, and we were trying to make sure that the implications of that were part of the decision-making process.”